Dan Haar: Voters in CT Insider/WFSB poll: state economy has fallen but Lamont not at fault

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Ask Gail LeBeau how the Connecticut economy has fared over the last 12 months and you’ll hear an unvarnished response: Lousy and getting worse.

She’s hardly alone, as 52 percent of likely voters in the upcoming election said the state’s economy has deteriorated since the fall of 2021, in a new CT Insider/Channel 3 Eyewitness News/Western New England University poll. Rising prices, of course, drove the bus on that question.

That compares with just 17 percent who said the state’s economy has gotten better and 28 percent who said it’s about the same over the last year.

Voters were slightly more pleased with the direction of their own household's finances, with 43 percent saying their situations had grown worse and 41 percent saying they had stayed about the same – but still only 15 percent who said their households were better off now than a year ago.  That illustrates the theory that many people believe bad news is rampant even if they aren’t experiencing it themselves.

More Information

The CT economy in the last year has:

gotten better -- 17 percent

gotten worse -- 52 percent

stayed about the same -- 28 percent

Your household's financial position in the last year has:

gotten better -- 15 percent

gotten worse -- 43 percent

stayed about the same -- 41 percent

CT Insider/WFSB/Western New England University poll, margin of error plus or minus 5 percentage points


So it’s a downbeat picture as we head into the last five weeks before the Nov. 8 election.

Click here to see complete results of the poll.

But the dour views by voters are not having a dramatic effect on how they will cast their ballots in the contest for governor, according to the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

That’s bad news for Bob Stefanowski, the Republican candidate for governor, who has cris-crossed the state this year telling anyone who will listen that prosperity is battered, people are struggling and the economy is moving in the wrong direction.

LeBeau, a resident of senior housing in Stamford, agrees with Stefanowski. “I believe the economy got bad,” LeBeau told me over the weekend.

Gov. Ned Lamont, seeking a second, 4-year term in office, sells optimism by the truckload. He points to large gains in the number of people working and the number of businesses starting up; a sharp drop in unemployment; a rise in the number of people moving in; resiliency of the housing market; and many other signs of progress, even as he agrees many families are hurting.

You might think voters such as LeBeau would flock to Stefanowski, the diviner of doom, considering that nearly half cited pocketbook issues as their No. 1 concern in the upcoming election – inflation, the economy and the cost of living; or taxes and government spending.

You would be wrong about LeBeau and many others who agree with Stefanowski that the economy is falling but have no intention of marking his name on their ballots.

“If this guy comes in, we’re going to be deathly in a lot of trouble,” said LeBeau, who tends to vote for Democrats. “You know why the economy got bad? Because of Covid…If people can’t understand that then they need to grow up.”

She even said the economy had improved under Lamont, meaning, when I pressed her on it, that she felt it got less bad than it would have.

‘Two Connecticuts’ on the economy

To be sure, Stefanowski has many supporters who favor his views and his bid for the governor’s office.

“Of course it’s gotten worse. Look who’s leading our economy. The Democrats. Everything they do stinks,” said a retired registered nurse named Claire, in the New Haven area, who participated in the poll. “With the prices going up it doesn’t balance out.”

Overall, a look at the numbers in the CT Insider/Channel 3 Eyewitness News/Western New England University poll, which was taken between Sept. 15 and 21, show a clear pattern: Even as a raft of data shows the state is doing okay, voters agree strongly with Stefanowski on the key issues of prosperity and crime in Connecticut.

Regardless, they favored Lamont by 55 percent to 40 percent in the CT Insider/Channel 3 (WFSB) poll, which was similar to the results of a Quinnipiac University poll that was also done in September. 

Opinions of likely voters on how the Connecticut economy had fared over the previous year varied widely by party. Among Republicans, 75 percent said it was worse and only 6 percent said it had improved, while 18 percent said it had stayed the same. 

Among Democrats, the split was more even, with a plurality for the naysayers: 34 percent said it had gone down hill, 30 percent said it had improved and 29 percent said it had stayed the same.

“Democrats and Republicans see two very different Connecticuts when it comes to the state’s economy,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Western New England University Polling Institute and professor of political science there.

People who identified themselves as unaffiliated voters were, as you’d expect, somewhere in the middle but a majority of them, 53 percent, gave the thumbs down to the Connecticut economy of the last year.

College graduates were less likely to say the state’s economy had gotten worse (39 percent) than people with a high school education or less (66 percent).  Men and women were split evenly.

Not blaming Lamont for woes

Now let’s dive behind the headline numbers for a look at how hard it will be for Stefanowski and his running mate, state Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, to turn this trend around.

Among the likely voters who said the economy has gotten better or stayed about the same, Lamont gained the support of 85 percent of them.  Among a larger group of likely voters who said the economy had gotten worse or stayed the same, Stefanowski pulled in just 47 percent.  

That tells us Stefanowski isn’t winning the votes of the very people who agree with him on the signature issue of his campaign.

The opposite is not true. Among the voters who said the economy has improved, only 8 percent called themselves Stefanowski supporters. Ninety-one percent planned to vote for Lamont.

Why is this happening? Many of those naysayers, like LeBeau, are Democrats or unaffiliated voters in Lamont’s camp for other reasons. The economy simply isn’t the defining issue for that group, Vercellotti speculated.

“The other possible explanation may be that voters don't hold governors as accountable for the economy as they do presidents,” he said.

The conundrum for Stefanowski and other Republicans stems from a basic contradiction: Republicans blame inflation on the Democrats, as it’s happening on their watch. But many factors affect rising prices. They include the bounceback from the pandemic shutdown that shocked the global supply chain and an $8 trillion debt that former President Donald Trump ran up – along with President Joe Biden’s oversized pandemic stimulus spending.

Stefanowski’s steep challenge

The poll numbers are stark. Twenty-seven percent of voters who said the state’s economy is worse also said they intend to vote for Lamont, or they lean toward supporting him. A hefty chunk of the economic naysayers and a hefty chunk of those who say their own household finances have worsened – 26 percent of both groups – even said they viewed Lamont favorably, Vercellotti calculated.

And among those who said the state's economy has remained about where it was over the last 12 months, support for Lamont is overwhelming, at 80 percent. 

Stefanowski needs to somehow pick off more of these econo-pessimist and econo-neutral Lamont backers – a lot more – if he’s going to pull off a come-from-behind upset.

And the same pattern holds true for crime: Voters strongly agreed with Stefanowski that their towns are less safe over the last four years, but still sided with Lamont as a candidate.

The upshot: Voters agree with Stefanowski by wide margins on the exact issues he is pushing. They are buying his ideas, maybe thanks to his message, maybe not.  But they are not buying Stefanowski in great enough numbers.

That’s a bad sign for the challenger, as it shows that he needs to find some other way to gain ground, beyond persuading voters that he’s correct on the key issues.